Photo: Linda Pugliese, Hector Sanchez; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas, Buffy Hargett Miller
Hands-on Time
1 Hour 15 Mins
Total Time
11 Hours 15 Mins
Makes 10 to 12 servings

Pipe a ring of frosting around the cake layer, just inside the top edge, to keep filling from oozing out.

How to Make It

Step 1

Prepare Filling: Stir together first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan. Whisk together cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl until smooth. Stir cornstarch mixture into cranberry mixture, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, 4 to 5 minutes or until cranberries begin to pop and mixture comes to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 more minute or until thickened and translucent. Stir in chopped cranberries and 2 Tbsp. butter, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute or until butter is melted. Remove from heat, and cool completely (about 30 minutes). Cover and chill 8 to 24 hours.

Step 2

Prepare Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°. Beat 1 cup butter at medium speed with a heavy- duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Gradually add 2 cups granulated sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Step 3

Whisk together flour and next 6 ingredients until well blended. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in 2 tsp. vanilla extract. Pour batter into 4 greased (with shortening) and floured 8 1/2-inch round disposable cake pans.

Step 4

Bake at 350° for 18 to 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks (about 1 hour).

Step 5

Meanwhile, prepare Frosting: Cook cider in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, 10 to 15 minutes or until reduced to 1/4 cup. Cool completely (about 20 minutes).

Step 6

Beat 1 cup butter and 1/4 tsp. salt at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with reduced apple cider, 2 tsp. vanilla, and 4 Tbsp. milk, beating well after each addition. If needed, add up to 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 tsp. at a time, and beat until desired consistency is reached.

Step 7

Place 1 cake layer on a cake plate or platter. Spoon 1 cup Apple Cider Frosting into a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Snip 1 corner of bag to make a small hole. Pipe a ring of frosting around cake layer just inside the top edge. Spread cake layer with about 2/3 cup chilled Cranberry Filling, spreading to edge of piped frosting. Repeat with 2 more layers. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Garnish with decorated sugar cones (instructions below), if desired.

Step 8

Cake Garnish How-to: Let 6 to 10 sugar cones stand at room temperature, uncovered, 24 hours. Cut bottom from several cones to make trees of varying heights. Prepare an extra batch of Apple Cider Frosting. Using 1 cup at a time, place frosting in a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Snip 1 corner of bag to make a 1/4-inch hole. Pipe small dots of frosting onto each cone, starting at bottom and lifting up to create a snowy branch effect. Cover cones completely with frosting. Carefully press silver dragees into wet frosting. Let cones dry 24 hours. Place around edge and on top of cake.

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Ratings & Reviews

Stunning and delicious....perfectly sweet

December 05, 2016
I made this recipe last year for my husbands company Christmas party. It was a hit!!! Loved how all the flavors come together. I'm am making it again this week for this year's company party as well.

As Delicious as it is Pretty

January 03, 2016
I made this cake for my sister's birthday on Christmas day and was very pleased with the end result. I made the cake using 9" cake pans instead of throw-away pans, and they were done in 16 minutes in my oven. The key to avoiding a dry cake is to mix in the dry ingredients just until moistened. Never over-mix! I also freeze the layers, each wrapped individually with plastic wrap, in order to make frosting the cake a neater process, and I believe it helps to maintain the moisture in the cake. The flavors of the cake with a hint of spice vs. tart, yet sweet cranberry filling, and the apple cider frosting made for one big hit at our family's Christmas gathering. I also attempted the trees, approaching this project as "just-for-fun" so that if they didn't turn out, I wouldn't be disappointed. They may not have looked as perfect as the ones on the cover of the magazine, but they still looked great, and made for quite an impressive looking cake. I made a 1/2 recipe of the frosting for the trees, and made only three trees. I also decorated my trees with crushed candy cane, which worked well. I will definitely make this cake again.

Unique and Delicious

January 02, 2016
I made the cake with some curiosity about the combination of ingredients. Spice, cranberry, apple cider? We'll see. What a pleasant surprise. What made this cake work so well for me was the blending of the flavors; one not overpowering the other. The spices in the cake were just enough to enhance the cranberry. The apple cider reduction was not distinguishable in the frosting as such, but it did light up the cranberry nicely. The very sweet frosting complimented the tartness of the cranberry. All together, the combined flavors were delightful and well worth the extra time in preparation. The recipe called for chilling the filling for 8-24 hours, but I wanted this finished in an afternoon, so I let the filling sit for 30 minutes, then put it in the freezer for another 30-45 minutes and it was fine. I did pipe a ring around the top of the frosted cake and fill the center with crushed walnuts. I will warn that the layers are thin so do not overbake them! I did not make the cone trees so I did not double the frosting. The finished cake was quite beautiful and presented well. I would definitely make this cake again.

Dry, but pretty

January 01, 2016
My daughter and I made this cake for our Christmas dinner. We found it to be dry. The cranberry filling was good, but the cake was not only dry but had a hardly recognizable spice taste. The frosting called for in the recipe was way too much. Instead of making a double batch as suggested,, we made a single batch which iced the cake and all the ice cream cone trees with enough left over to frost a smaller cake and two dozen cookies. Making the apple cider reduction was a waste of time, because the cider taste was lost in the end result. I remade the cake, using Mel’s Kitchen Café’s yellow cake recipe and added my own spices. It was moist and had a much stronger spice taste. For a cover cake, this recipe was found wanting in a number of ways. My son’s Jello pudding chocolate pie with a store-bought graham cracker crust got raves whereas our multi-hour effort was dismissed with a few shrugs. The cake is very pretty and the idea of using the cones as trees is a great one.  So I recommend using a different cake recipe, the same cranberry filling, and less frosting minus the apple cider reduction if you decide to make this cake.